Farm Tour of Western North Carolina
The western part of our state is a region rich with friendly farms, delicious dining options, and jaw dropping views. Join us on this four-day, 215-mile "Farm Fresh" backroads tour. We'll start in Asheville and end in Ashe County, with a whole lot of stopping in between to visit farms, sample just-made jam, sip local wine, feed alpacas, and more.
Let's start casual at Laurey's Catering and Gourmet to Go. Laurey's is the kind of place you'd want to support even if the food wasn't outstanding. Luckily, it is. Owner Laurey Masterton, a cancer survivor whose often-touted motto is "don't postpone joy," serves up fresh meals in her lively cafe in downtown Asheville. Masterton works with a long list of area farmers to incorporate local ingredients and products at every turn, an admirable feat for a fairly high-volume business. I suggest you have a nibble here, maybe chicken salad made with poultry from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, and order dinners-to-go that you can heat up later at your farm stay. You might want to grab some breakfast fare, too.
From Asheville, you'll head southeast for 20 minutes, starting on highways and moving onto two-lane country roads, to reach Cloud 9 Farm in Fairview. Here you have a choice of renting a romantic cabin or stylish home, both fully wired and well-appointed with local art and crafts. Farmer Janet Peterson's 200-acre mountain retreat also is home to a small herd of naturally raised cattle, chickens, a vegetable garden, two acres of U-pick blueberries, pollinator beehives, and a custom sawmill. While Cloud 9 doesn't serve breakfast, your kitchen is stocked with basic mixes, and Peterson even delivers just-laid eggs from her flock, along with jams and honey. She'll also shop ahead for perishables upon request. Make sure to get a farm tour before you check out.
Remember that chicken salad you had at Laurey's? Your first stop is a visit to the source, the 600-acre, fifth generation Hickory Nut Gap Farm just up the road in a scenic valley. If the farm store is open, you can buy grass-fed beef, pork, poultry, and eggs, as well as food products from other farms in the region, including jams from Imladris Farm.
Take the back roads, including curvy Highway 9, to charming downtown Black Mountain, where you'll eat lunch at Louise's Kitchen, a cafe with a friendly vibe and fresh food sourced from several area farms, many of them members of the Black Mountain Tailgate Market and the Old Fort-based Foothill Family Farms collective.
Drive up hairpin-happy Highway 80 to Mountain Farm in Celo, south of Burnsville, and one of the state's most appealing agritourism enterprises. Marilyn and Jerry Cade, both in the medical field, have lived here since 1974. They opened up their farm in the 1990s and it now features two acres of naturally grown lavender and a lavender labyrinth, dairy goats, U-pick blueberries, a lovely little shop carrying the farm's lavender products and goat-milk soap, and, most recently, a homemade ice cream and coffee bar. Visitors are invited to view the goats and stroll through the fields of lavender up to the farm's peak, which offers wide views of the Black Mountain Range.
From here, you're off on another twisting, turning and wildly scenic drive for 75 minutes to Banner Elk. The Blueberry Villa at the Banner Elk Winery is a luxury bed and breakfast overlooking vineyards and blueberry bushes and most suites have mountain views.
Fueled by your gourmet breakfast at Blueberry Villa, head east for about 30 minutes through mountain-flanked valleys to Boone, home to the lively Watauga County Farmers' Market. In operation since 1974, it draws hundreds of visitors and, during the summer peak season, 80 to 90 farm, food, and craft vendors. While you're there, stop for a stroll at the adjacent Daniel Boone Native Gardens, which has an impressive collection of native plants.
Take a tour at Apple Hill Farm, outside of Banner Elk. You'll be backtracking, but it's worth it. To guard her alpacas, farmer Lee Rankin also raises llamas and donkeys. The tour includes a look at her naturally grown produce garden, berries, apple orchard, and plenty of alpaca face time. A lovely shop in the stylish barn carries goods made from alpaca fleece, including 18 lines of alpaca yarn, goat milk soap and other hand-made products.
Heading back toward Boone, you'll soon reach Valle Crucis and Mast Farm Inn. For more than a century, visitors to the mountains have stayed at this historic country inn. Seven guest rooms are available in the original 1880s farmhouse, graced with an inviting wraparound porch. Ten other cabins and cottages on the grounds are rented out as well, some new, others historic. Guests are invited to stroll through the inn's large organic garden, which supplies its outstanding farm-to-table restaurant, Simplicity. And make sure you drop by Simplicity's Pantry, a small shop in the main lodge filled to the brim with food products made in North Carolina and Virginia.
After a breakfast that might include the most decadent French toast you've ever tasted, travel north, to rural Ashe County, home to the largest number of Christmas tree farms in the state. Once you've worked off breakfast, stop in historic downtown West Jefferson for a bite and a brew at Boondocks Brewing Tap Room & Restaurant on the main drag, South Jefferson Avenue.
Up the road another 20 minutes you'll reach the two self-service cabins at Zydeco Moon. Here, Joe Martin and Sally Thiel (regulars at the Watauga County market) work a six-acre certified organic produce farm. Though you'll have to stock your own kitchen, all guests get a basket of "whatever is growing," Thiel says. The couple, who moved here from Baton Rouge, La., in 2005, built the attractive cabins, which come with vaulted ceilings and decks that look onto the Helton Creek Valley. They'll give you a tour of the farm, and, if you're itching to fish, the couple makes that easy, too. Their stream is stocked with trout.
With all these farms you've been touring, we suggest you stick around Grassy Creek a few more days and rest up for your next outing. What else is there to do around these parts? Not all that much, which is the best part.
IF YOU GO
Some lodging options may require multiple night stays during high tourist season. When visiting farms, it's best to check days and hours of operation, as they usually change with the seasons and with farmers' availability.